Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Broken Flowers

Back in the early and mid 1990s, the name Bill Murray did not garner respect. He definitely was considered a funny guy, but a funny guy on the decline. However, starting with Rushmore, Murray completely revitalized his career, to the point that now the presence of Bill Murray in a film is a near guarantee of quality. This is largely due to the creation of a new 'Bill Murray' character.

Now, star image is a very important thing in film, going back to the 1910s, but it's sort of faded away, and more importantly, it's generally considered to be at odds with 'real acting.' If method acting is all about completely becoming another person, star image is more about just being yourself, or at least the public perception of yourself. So, regardless of whether or not he's acting, in his recent films, Murray has created a very strong star image. The basic idea is that he's a guy who is extremely passive, so laid back that he almost disappears and most of the humor in the films with neo-Bill Murray comes from watching other characters struggle to penetrate the silent, ambiguous mindscape of our hero. 'Bill Murray' the character is generally despressed, at a point in his life where he struggles to care about anything, though over the course of the film he finds that perhaps there is something worth living for.

So, if Lost in Translation was 'Bill Murray' in Japan, and The Life Aquatic was 'Bill Murray' on a boat, Broken Flowers is Bill Murray on a quest for his kid. While the films may have a similar main character, I don't really mind because Bill Murray's acting in all of them is phenomenal. He does so little, yet always completely holds your attention. At the beginning of this film, there's nothing to really make you like the guy, but Murray makes him a captivating figure anyway. In the simple action of watching the Don Juan film, you can see Don contemplating his entire life.

I really liked the slow build of the film's beginning. You see this guy who has created a very comfortable, easy existence for himself, and claims that this is what he wants. Yet, when face with Winston's passion and fire for life, he allows himself to break away from the easy comforts and take a risk, to search for a deeper emotional connection beyond just material comforts.

So, he's off on his quest. Normally these quest type structures cause a movie to drag a bit. It's usually a bad sign when you see a movie that's set up more like a videogame, where you've got a set number of objectives to achieve, because it means that the entire film will just be variations on the same thing. However, Jarmusch makes each stop along Don's journey unique and interesting, each interaction revealing to Don a facet of his personality that he'd forgotten.

I liked seeing Frances Conroy outside of Six Feet Under. That segment was notable for some really great awkward moment comedy. Throughout the film there were these incredible silences, where you were just wishing someone would say something. And then Don's hinting around the issue of his son was good for some more laughs.

I don't really have too much to comment on the journey. It was all solid, funny stuff, but I think the film's real strength is in its final scenes. Up until those scenes, there was a more conventional film than the typical Jarmusch movie. All his stuff has a high level of ambiguity and frequently ends on a note of mystery. Most of the film was fairly straightforward, and while I've heard some people say that nothing happened in the film and it was slow, I thought it was constantly engaging, much more so than Stranger than Paradise or Dead Man.

Anyway, as the film progresses, Don begins to think that his son must be trying to get in touch with him, and as a result, he begins to think that anyone who's around twenty must be his son. The scene where he speaks with the kid, and tries to reach out to him is phenomenal, full of ambiguity and emotion. At this point, Don has become attached to having a kid, and despite the fact that Sherry's letter almost definitively proves that he never had a son in the first place, he's still searching for him. So, when he sees this kid, he decides that he must be his son, his desire overwhelming his logic. It's almost painful to watch Don reach out and then get rejected. He'd constructed this fantasy and is quickly brought down to reality. And at the end, Don has deluded himself, trying to construct an emotional bond to fill in for the fact that his life is ultimately empty.

The ending moments of the film were fantastic, and I'm glad that we were left not knowing exactly what happened. The letter was just a mcguffin, it forced Don to assess his life, and after symbolically reliving his past, he fails trying to create his future.

Even though I really liked the film, it did have something that always annoys me in a movie and that's when a character watches an old movie or cartoon that comments on the action in some way. I think the whole Don Juan comparison was made a few too many times at the beginning, but besides that, I don't think that many people watch old movies or cartoons. This crops up in a lot of films though, probably because old stuff is public domain and therefore is a lot easier to use.

But that doesn't obscure the fact that this was a really strong, funny and emotional movie. I think it's Jarmusch's best.

11 comments:

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I guess this can be compared as a some real life momments. Anyway I love the movie was very nice and teach many things for life.

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